Revelation, Inspiration and Authority

Introduction

On the core of the Christian faith is the sound framework of a strong belief in the existence of a personal God who has revealed Himself to humanity in many various ways.[1] For the Christian, everything else concerning Christianity rises and falls upon this cardinal truth of God’s revelation. God has chosen to reveal himself through the things that he has created which stands as eternal witnesses of his work,[2] thereby leaving eternal fingerprints of a grand designer to which mankind cannot profess to be agnostics or atheistic.[3] Moreover, such knowledge has not brought people into a personal relationship with God. Rather, mankind has conceived of God as some creature or a figment of their imagination. Thus, God sought to reveal himself through a mode of special revelation known as the Bible; His revealed, inspired, inerrant and authoritative word for all mankind. But above all, He has revealed himself to mankind in the person of His one and only Begotten Son, the Living Word, Christ Jesus. This essay will seek to explain the concept of revelation, inspiration and authority of the biblical text.

Revelation

The word revelation implies the motif that God, the creator of the universe has made a deliberate choice to make Himself known to mankind. Since human beings could not know God apart from His own deliberate self-disclosure, God sought to reach down to man and unveiled himself so that man can know Him in a personal manner. This was not a onetime event, but in his sovereign way, God chose to reveal himself gradually through varying stages and periods using different ways.

General Revelation

First, he placed a unique voice in the created order. This is his general revelation in that, it is more general in nature. People perceive the created matter and get marveled at the wonders of His creation. In their right minds and consciences, they perceive a power and a mind that is beyond this natural world as being the source of origination from which all life forms derive their life. But, though the testimony of nature is so strong, it fails to bring salvation and remedy from sin, neither does it bring a personal knowledge and experience of this Grand Designer and Creator of the universe. It leaves prints in men’s hearts, yet, because of sin, some make deliberate choices to profess ignorance of God’s existence or deny His knowledge. As the Scripture say, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”[4]

Special Revelation

When this medium of general revelation failed to bring mankind to a personal relationship with God, he gave to man His special revelation through His first spoken, then written word.[5] It thus becomes clear as one studies the written word of God (the Bible) that special revelation is a revelation particularly concerned with words.[6] It can be argued that, this aspect of special revelation makes Christianity to be unique. While other religions can claim to have holy books, no other book apart from the Bible has much inherent authority and testimony as God’s spoken word. The use of various terms in Scripture such as “Holy Scriptures”, “Oracles of God”, the “Word of God” and “Sacred Scriptures”, etc., clearly shows that it has a divine source that gave specific words to be written and made known to mankind.[7] Special revelation is evident in specific modes, times and persons that God has chosen to be recipients of His revelation. For example, a cursory look at the Scriptures shows how this special revelation was given through the medium of angels[8], the Urim and Thummim[9], dreams and visions[10], men’s consciences[11] and even miraculous events in history.[12]

Of particular interest, both the Old and New Testaments clearly indicates the function and importance of inspired messengers and witnesses, that is, the prophets and apostles who were given God’s word and spoke it to the people under His inspiration. These were in two categories: those who spoke only and those who spoke and wrote down the words from the Lord. It is to these writing classes of inspired men to whom we now attribute a compilation of God’s sacred words in the form of the Bible, consisting of sixty-six books. This leads us to the concept of inspiration.

But before we can consider inspiration, it is important to note that, while the biblical text stands as God’s unique revelation in written form, they are not the ultimate goal. The Scripture on their own, in their heart and testimony, point to Christ who is the Living Word of God and the one who has fully revealed the person of God to mankind. Thus, when read or studied, man is not just studying a religious book developed by genius Christian minds, but rather, as a mirror that points people to the real person who reveals God.[13] It can further be argued that, natural revelation is incomplete on its own, and, to understand it, a person needs special revelation to be its interpreter, and Christ himself to be the teacher through the Holy Spirit. In summary, special revelation reveals to us the character of God and His saving nature through which we learn of His grace and love to redeem lost sinners. This, natural revelation can’t do.

Inspiration

Today, many people in the religious world are skeptical of the Bible. In the writer’s own territory, many people conceive the Bible as a tool of colonial imperialism. Churches are bent on rejecting its inspiration and authority and the Bible is usually ranked as one of the other righteous books howbeit with an ulterior motive of enslaving the blacks and enriching the white man who disguised himself as a missionary. Thus, for most Africans, the Bible is a corrupt and not a holy book. Only few portions of it are right. This kind of mentality is predominant especially in many African countries, and with the rise of many self-professed prophets who look down upon the authority of the Bible, the doctrine of inspiration of the Scriptures need to be revisited.

There are two main Scriptures in the New Testament that speaks of the fact of inspiration, namely, 2 Timothy 3:16 and 1 Peter 2:20-21. It should be evident that the whole purpose of the Scripture is to lead mankind to know God and come into a personal experience with His saving grace through the person of Christ. However, for this to happen, a person has to have faith that is intelligently accurate, informed by God’s word. Thus, right belief will lead to the right kind of faith. If our human’s beliefs concerning God’s word are in error, this will negatively impact faith. As a result, the Bible has provided certain control measures to help mankind understand and evaluate personal beliefs.

Questions often raised when the subject of inspiration is addressed include: Can one accept the Bible’s testimony? If so, on what basis is it possible? What makes the Bible the only true word of God amidst an array of religious books? Can the testimony of the authors of Scripture be regarded as true? Why should people consider the Bible to be the only absolute truth? Are there no errors or contradictions in it? In recent times, there have risen many critics who fail to appreciate the Bible’s own internal evidence as pertaining to its inspiration. Higher criticism has done a lot and thankfully, the fields of apologetics and philosophical theology has been engaging critics to which the Christian church has greatly managed to have some strides.

It is not to the outside testimony that we appeal for the Bible’s inspiration. The fact of its inspiration solely lies within its pages. First, it is important to observe that, revelation and inspiration are two different things. While revelation is concerned primarily with God’s own self-disclosure, inspiration is limited to the actual words of Scripture. In other words, the Bible claims that all it records is an inspired record, an infallible and inerrant record. Taking this thought further, it is assumed that the Bible is a divine product that was made possible by the breathing out of God. This conveys the idea of God breathing messages into men and through them so that the Scriptures became possible. As to the nature and how this happened, the Scripture is silent. Thus, all that remain are speculative theories yet, it cannot be denied that inspiration is assumed by the Scripture’s own inherent testimony.

The writer thinks the verbal plenary inspiration is quite a better way of understanding inspiration since it argues that it is not merely the thoughts of the writers or their ideas which were inspired by God, but rather, the actual word by word as recorded in the Scriptures is inspired.[14] Also, this idea of inspiration seems to be well embodied within the original autographs of Scripture. While today many apographs has reached to the Church, issues of translations and manuscript variations can in no wise be cited as real factors that spurn upon the idea of inspiration.

As indicated above, the writer strongly presupposes a verbal plenary view of inspiration to be the quite correct approach in understanding inspiration. The fact of inspiration is well subscribed to by the apostle Paul. Despite his glories and boasting in many accomplishments as an apostle, he reminded his young disciple of the Scriptures as originating with God. Even the apostle Peter too, a man who walked with the Lord, ate with him and ministered with him recognized the inspiration of the Scriptures.

A case can then be advanced that inspiration extends to all the Scriptures, not just to some parts but all parts and every written word. For example, Paul makes an argument to the Corinthians in which he claims that the words he spoke to them were words that the Holy Spirit teaches.[15] Peter then later wrote to his audience arguing that Paul’s writings were equated with other Old Testament Scriptures.[16] The writer also believes that the phrase “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” if applied to the present generation refers to the teachings of the whole Bible as they have been the preserved teachings of the apostles and prophets.[17] The Old Testament texts are much clearer than the New Testament texts in that, the prophets clearly states they had received a word that had came from God. Thus, we have the most common phrases, “Thus saith the Lord…” or “The word of the Lord came…”[18]

What intrigues this writer is that, at varying times, some of these prophets used their personal language and feelings to convey God’s messages. Others like the prophet Jeremiah would battle the decision to say God’s word and sometimes would report to not speaking it, yet God’s word will be like fire shut up in his bones, and there would be no rest for him until he had spoken God’s word. Despite being reluctant, these prophets were compelled to speak. At times, it’s even clear that God would command them to write down His words even when some of them did not understand the words.[19]

In summing up the idea of inspiration, it is important t remember Peter’s words that prophecy never came as a result of man’s will. The Scriptures were produced by God; they are His work and product. The authors were borne along by the divine afflatus. To this end, Christ made a remarkable statement, “The Scripture cannot be broken.”[20]  The way the New Testament quotes the Old Testament clearly proves the point. God’s written word cannot be annulled, withstood or denied.[21] This is so because it originated with God and God gave it His divine superintendence. This leads us to the next point, the authority of Scripture.

Authority

So far, it has been assumed that God has sought to reveal himself through the medium of special revelation that consists of words. These words were carefully given through His inspiration under divine superintendence so that what has reached to humanity in this age is indeed the very word of God in written form. While there are critics who argue against the inspiration of Scripture and its importance, the Bible commands a great authority inherent within it because of the nature of its origin.  The King James Version reads,

All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.[22]

It is clear that the Bible is authoritative especially when the purposes of its inspiration are recognized. It is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, training in righteousness and making the man of God thoroughly complete. Of particular interest is how the New Testament aids our understanding of this uniqueness of the authority of Scripture. First, the New Testament does not seem to explain away or get rid of the Old Testament passages. Rather, the NT completes and compliments the old. This is the reason why statements like “That it might be fulfilled…” “And it was fulfilled that which was spoken by the prophet…” etc., abides in the NT passages.  This is a testimony that both testaments are a complete unity.

Over the years, this writer has come to conclude that an inherent sense of authority abides in the Bible. One cannot afford to ignore the constant use of phrases like “Thus says the Lord…” or “The Lord says…” Moreover, apostolic authority of New Testament writers is evidence that they continued teaching what Christ had given them to teach through the enablement of the indwelling Holy Spirit.[23] Those who refuse God’s revelation also refuse to accept biblical inspiration and this leads to an outright rejection of biblical authority. For example, in the author’s context, many churches tend to believe a prophet more than the Bible. In some churches, the writings or teachings of the founder are revered and venerated more than the Scriptures. At times, the Bible is only used as one of the many religious books in the world, yet, the Christian church should have the attitude of Christ who claimed that the Scriptures cannot be broken. The Psalmist declared, “Forever oh Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven.”[24]

It is thus apt to point that, when Christian churches have a misconception of the Bible, have flawed views on its inspiration and authority, errors and cults emerges. There should be only one authority to which all traditions, views and practices should subjected, that of the plain teachings of Scripture. If doctrines are invented that fail the Word test, they have to be rejected for, it is only God’s Word that has been given by His Spirit’s superintendence that portrays what God requires for man.

God’s authority in His written word further presupposes that it is what God best plans for mankind. Otherwise, how can man know of God’s mind without reading God’s thoughts, rules, laws and principles? Thus, the authority of Scripture also speaks of the self-sufficiency of scripture and its inerrancy. Because God is true, His word cannot be in error. It has no flaws or fault. Thus, it remains the greatest supporter of the authority of the Scriptures is Christ and the apostles. If the church in this generation will be victorious against the enemy, it needs to embrace a proper view of the Scriptures since its behavior is determined by our application of the text.

This naturally raises a question: to what extent is the authority of both testaments applies to a believer’s life since there are two different dispensations? To understand this, it is important for believers to be guided by a proper hermeneutic. The Old Testament, though God’s written word, has some important principles necessary for modern day application. However, there has to be a clear distinction of how God’s word meant specifically for ancient Israel can be applicable to all people at varying stages of human history. Promises to OT Israel should be distinguished from that of the NT church in view of Christ’s coming and fulfillment of OT types, laws, covenants and promises. Since most of the OT has been fulfilled in Christ, the believer should thus be prepared to engage in serious study that helps him to see what clearly applies to him “in Christ” and lessons and examples to learn from therein.[25]

In the final analysis, what the Bible says about God, man, sin and salvation remains authoritative for all regardless of nationality, gender or religion. How one view its message will further determine his end. If Christ is who He claims to be, then the Bible’s authority should be taken seriously into account. If one believes in the authority of Scripture, he will take its warnings and message of salvation seriously. But if one is unsure of the bible’s authority and treats it as a mere human effort to bring a book of good morals, then his spiritual destiny is in jeopardy, for n one goes to the Father except through Christ.[26]

Conclusion

In conclusion, this essay discussed the revelation, inspiration and authority of the Scriptures. It has been presented herein that, God has revealed himself to mankind, but the revelation is mainly in two forms, general and special revelation. It is special revelation that concerns itself with the doctrine of the written word of God as the medium for God’s specific communication to mankind in His grace to save humanity through the Living Word, Christ Jesus. To safeguard His word from error and human naughty, God inspired men to write down his word and have it recorded for all generations of man. A person’s attitude towards the Scriptures will have a great deal of impact towards his relationship with God since it is the final authority in all matters pertaining to life and godliness.

Notes:

[1] Hebrews 1:1-4; Psalm 19

[2] Romans 1

[3] Psalm 14:1; c.f. Psalm 53:1

[4] Romans 1:22

[5] Psalm 68:11

[6] Hebrews 1:1-4 and Hebrews 2:1-4. Also see John 16:12-15

[7] Romans 1:2; 3:2; Hebrews 5:12; Mark 7:13; Romans 10:17; Hebrews 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:15

[8] Genesis 18,19, 22; Exodus 3; Acts 7

[9] Numbers 27:21; Deuteronomy 33:8,10; see Exodus 28:30; Proverbs 16:33

[10] Daniel 2; 7:1; Genesis 41

[11] Romans 2:14

[12] Not only did God perform miracles, but biblical record shows a distinct way of His speaking. It is clear that he spoke out of Heaven e.g. Exodus 20; Matthew 3;17 and Matthew 17.

[13] John 1:14, 18; 3:16-18; 6:63; 14:6; Hebrews 1:3; 2:3; Revelation 19:10).

[14] John 17:17; Ps. 119:160

[15] 1 Corinthians 2:13

[16] 2 Peter 3:15-16

[17] Ephesians 2:20

[18] E.g. most opening prophetic words in the Old Testament contain such phrases.

[19] Daniel, Ezekiel and other prophets that spoke many prophecies which were not fulfilled in their own times usually comes to my mind.

[20] John 10:34-36

[21] Matthew 5:17-18; 12:26-27; Luke 24:44

[22] 2 Timothy 3:16

[23] C.f. John 14-17 and 1 Corinthians 11

[24] Psalm 119:89

[25] Romans 15:4 and 1 Corinthians 10

[26] John 14:6

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